Nikolai Smirnov was born in the Soviet Union and came to the United States when he was 11. He immediately began studying dance at the School of American Ballet in New York City and danced in George Balanchine's Nutcracker as a young boy. While at SAB he studied under Olga Kostritsky, Peter Boal, Jock Soto and Andrei Kramarevsky among others. In 2010 he was promoted to Soloist. Prior to coming to Carolina Ballet, he danced with Sarasota Ballet of Florida.